The Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine are poor and minority

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Kiev estimates the number of Russian soldiers killed in the Ukrainian war at 27,000. Although most Western sources consider this number high, their estimates are much higher than the numbers announced by Russia. Britain’s Defence Ministry estimated on Sunday that Russia has lost probably a third of its ground combat force since announcing its decision to launch a military operation against Ukraine in February, killing or wounding about 50,000 Russian soldiers.

But the number of Russian generals and high-ranking officers who have died in the Ukrainian war, which began on February 24 and turned out to be much more costly than the Kremlin expected, is remarkable. Observers believe that Russia’s losses in Ukraine could exceed the number of troops (15,000) lost by the Soviet Union during its invasion of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989.

According to observers, the vast majority of the thousands of Russian soldiers who have died in Ukraine are young people from poor and minority groups. Russia generally prefers to remain silent on the number of soldiers killed. Russian officials said on March 2 that a total of 498 soldiers had lost their lives in Ukraine from the start of the war to the date of the announcement. A statement updated by Russia on March 25 said one thousand 351 soldiers had died. No information was given about the soldiers who died afterwards.

In a statement during Victory Day ceremonies on May 9, Russian President Putin described the Russian soldiers who died during the occupation without specifying their numbers, saying, “We bow before our comrades-in-arms who bravely died in a just war for Russia. The deaths of each soldier and officer saddened us individually. He also suffered irreparable losses to his loved ones.”

On the other hand, an aid package was announced for the families of those wounded and killed in the war. The Russian-language website ‘MediaZona’ was able to document that 2,099 Russian soldiers had died during the war as of May 6, based on only the published information.

Noting that the vast majority of the dead soldiers were between the ages of 21 and 23 and that the 74 soldiers who died were not even twenty years old, MediaZona pointed out that most of the dead came from the south of Russia and the central parts of Siberia, including the Muslim-majority North Caucasus, according to the distribution of regions. The few remaining soldiers were from Moscow, which is richer than any other city in Russia, and Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

It was confirmed that 135 soldiers were killed from the Dagestan region of the North Caucasus, where the Muslim minority lives, while 98 soldiers from the Mongolian minority Buryatia, who lived in Buryatia, one of the republics of Russia in southeastern Siberia, were confirmed dead.

Pavel Luzin, a commentator for the news website ‘Riddle Russia’, said that the vast majority of soldiers and officers in the ground forces come from small towns and villages of Russia, which is associated with social stratification and therefore cultural divisions. In his assessment, Luzin said, “Military service requirements in the ground forces are relatively low. Those who are trained and considered future soldiers prefer other branches of the Russian Armed Forces, such as the air and space forces, strategic missile forces and the navy.”

In Dagestan, one of Russia’s poorest regions that has been battling Islamist rebels for years, local media and Telegram channels are flooded with pictures of bereaved families sent messages of condolence by the authorities.

For example, on May 6, Kamil Iziiev, the ruler of the Dagestan city of Buynaksk, posted a video on his Telegram account showing himself during a medal-giving ceremony to the families of five Dagestan citizens killed in the war. In the video, where the medals were seen being taken by the headscarf-wearing wives and mothers of the deceased soldiers, Iziiev said, “You must live in a way worthy of the mothers of the sons whose fathers died as heroes. Dear families, remember that man is alive as long as he is remembered. Let’s remember these guys.” The first Russian soldier officially confirmed dead by Moscow was Nurmagomed Gadzhimagomedov, a young Dagestani who was said by state media to have been killed while rescuing fellow soldiers. Putin awarded Gadzhimagomedov the medal ‘Hero of Russia’ on March 4 after his death. Gadzhimagomedov’s death on the battlefield prompted Putin to openly praise the role of non-Russian ethnic groups in Russia’s war. Putin said he was “proud to be part of the strong and multinational Russian people.”

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan caused a national shock. Nobel Prize-winning Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich conveyed this shock with her book ‘Zinc Children’, which takes its name from the zinc coffins where the bodies of young soldiers were returned. This shock contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow’s strict censorship of the war in Ukraine, which the Kremlin has described as a ‘special military operation’, meant that it could not be called a war in Russia, but it drowned out the voices of those opposed to the war, and few dared to voice their concerns about the casualties. One of the rare anti-war voices, former Russian State Duma Member and former Crimean Prosecutor General Natalya Poklonskaya, accused the Russian authorities of using the letter ‘Z’ to spread propaganda in the media. Poklonskaya said that this letter symbolizes a tragedy for both Russia and Ukraine, adding, “Why the letter Z? Is it because Russian soldiers were killed?” Luzin, a commentator for the Riddle Russia website, stressed that the fact that the protests against the loss of life in the autonomous regions and minority regions of Russia have not been made public does not mean that there will be no reaction in the future, “However, these reactions will not be in the form of an open resistance, but will be covered. They will start avoiding conscription and contract military service.”

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